December 11, 2016 — Third Sunday of Advent
IS 35: 1-6A, 10; PS 146: 6-10; JAS 5: 7-10; MT 11: 2-11
On this Third Sunday of Advent, Gaudete Sunday, all of our readings deal with rejoicing and with joy, which is appropriate for the theme of today. That secondary name for today comes from the Introit for today that in the traditional Latin Mass comes from Philippians 4: 4-5: Gaudete in Domino semper (“Rejoice in the Lord always.”). We have passed the midpoint of Advent, and much that we celebrate and our traditions relax a bit. Rather than the purple vestments of penitence, the priest can wear rose-colored vestments, and on our Advent wreaths we light a rose-colored candle rather than a purple one.
Even the prophet Isaiah, from whom our First Reading comes and who can sometimes be a bit dour and negative, begins with this statement, “The desert and the parched land will exult; the steppe will rejoice and bloom. They will bloom with abundant flowers, and rejoice with joyful song.” We are on a journey, a trek of faith that we might also call our stewardship journey. It is a life-long journey and when we reach the end of it, according to Revelation 21:4, “God will wipe away every tear from our eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away.”
The point may be that we need to be both on the journey and aware we are on the journey, which is what Advent is really concerning. If we have not committed to the journey, if we have not made the conversion necessary to be a part of it, and if we have not made an effort to pursue our lives as Disciples of Christ, now is the time.
We have often made reference to agricultural thoughts expressed in Holy Scripture. The Second Reading from the letter of James is another example of that. James notes, “See how the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth, being patient with it until it receives the early and late rains.” Farmers offer us two great examples for our reasons to be joyous. A farmer plants a crop and knows that it takes time for it to come to fruition. Although the farmer cannot see it, the farmer believes that it will bear fruit and produce what is wanted and needed.
That faith is followed by patience and endurance as the farmer keeps caring for and preparing for the crop, although it cannot be seen. It does not matter how far away the fruits may be; the farmer believes and trusts and endures. That is the same patience and endurance that lives of stewardship exemplify. It is based upon trust in God and knowing that God will both provide and reward us. That is why we are joyful today, and every day.
St. John the Baptist is so important as the messenger of Jesus, the messenger of the Messiah. Yet, even John, like each of us, harbors doubts. He, like many, may have expected the Lord to arrive with great fanfare and instant political acts and impact. However, Jesus does not and did not work in that way.
Jesus’ approach was always simple acts, one at a time, not huge dramatic works. That is an important stewardship message for us as well. Stewardship, and the example of Jesus, is based upon humility, the acceptance that all are more important than we are. As the Lord says in today’s Gospel about John, whom he has already glorified and praised, “…yet the least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.”
On this holy day, as we always do at Mass, we gather to celebrate Christ in the Eucharist, an example of His humility. St. Teresa of Calcutta, an example of humility and stewardship, said this: “The humility of Jesus can be seen in the crib, in the exile to Egypt, in the hidden life, in the ability to make people understand Him, in the desertion of His apostles, in the hatred of His persecutors, in all the terrible suffering and death of His Passion, and now in His permanent state of humility in the tabernacle, where He has reduced Himself to such a small particle of bread that a priest can hold Him with two fingers. The more we empty ourselves, the more room we give God to fill us.”